Are Our Best Days Behind Us?

I’m reading the short stories of John Cheever right now. Something about his characters and themes taps into traits and inclinations that are at the core of who I am. Cheever had/has a fixation on loss, lost youth, lost money, lost hope.  Yesterday, as I was reading one of his short stories, about a character described, at 40, as a middle aged man, I remembered something I had forgotten.  I am middle aged.  And unless I live to be 95, I am on the downward slope of middle age.  But whenever I get worried about my age, I always think of Sarah Jessica Parker who is three years older than me.  At every age, she is beautiful and fashionable and smart and relevant and the thought of her comforts me.

This morning, I read Cheever’s O Youth and Beauty, about a former star athlete who in middle age has money problems and drinks too much. Again, as I drank my morning coffee and sat on the couch reading, I wondered, are my best days behind me?

I remember that hope we had, I had, in our youth that our adult lives would be filled with an abundance of riches. Not just monetary riches, but certainly including those. We would have many friends, many children, many vacations, many pets, many accolades, many successes.

When I was in high school, I was in forensics, and I was sometimes asked to do monologues or scenes at various womens’ clubs in Independence. A small group of us would assemble in a church fellowship hall and entertain the ladies. My piece was always from God’s Favorite by Neil Simon, always a crowd favorite. Even at 16, I could tap into the Charles Nelson Reilly that was gesticulating within me. We’d put on our little show, they’d feed us cookies and tea and sometimes give us a small honorarium, and then we’d be on our way. I’d drive off in my ratty ’65 Mustang and think this was just the beginning of a rich life. Unlimited promise.

Are all of my best days behind me?

As I walked the dogs a few minutes ago, I asked myself that question. How far back in my memory reserve would I have to go to access a really great day, not just a good day, but a special, think of it for years to come day. Maybe even a remember it on your deathbead, a la Claire Fisher from series finale of Six Feet Under, kind of day.

You can imagine my relief when a fairly recent memory popped into my head, from a mere two months ago. Not surprisingly, I was on vacation. Also, not surprisingly, I was in New York.

Eric and I were in New York but during the day he attended a trade show at the Javits Center. I decided that was the day I would go to Governors Island. I’d never been to Governors Island, when I lived in New York, I do not think it was open to the public.

I took the train to the tip of Manhattan and walked to the Ferry terminal, then took the Ferry to Governors Island. I walked around the island, took pictures, posted pictures to Instagram. I boarded the ferry to return to Manhattan. Took more pictures of both islands. Docked in Manhattan and went to Starbucks and bought a water with a gift card my Mom sent me. I visited a gift store I like where I bought vintage looking dog stickers.

I pondered the possibility of taking the subway back to midtown where we were staying, especially since it was 90 degrees, and also, I developed a stomachache from drinking that water so fast. But I decided I would walk until I got tired and then take the subway the rest of the way. I walked from South Street Seaport through Tribeca and Soho into Greenwich Village then by my old apartment on 15th street. I walked up 8th until about 30th and then I jogged over to 9th Avenue. Somewhere around 23rd, the thought of a flower topped chocolate cupcake from Cupcake Cafe popped into my head. How long it had been since I’d had one of those cupcakes? Ten years? Fifteen? When I got to 9th Avenue, the bakery was not where I remembered it but across the street. Had they moved or had I remembered it incorrectly? I bought my cupcake. I considered eating it at one of the handful of dusty tables, but decided I would take it back to the hotel and eat it there in the blasting air conditioning. I walked up 9th Avenue with the intent to also buy a sandwich at Amy’s Breads but at Amy’s Breads, at 2:30 p.m., the sandwich pickings were slim. So I ambled up and got a turkey sandwich at the French bistro near our hotel. I ate my feast in our room, half interested in an episode of Catfish playing on MTV. I took a shower and Eric texted me to say we would meet for drinks at Soho Grand before our dinner at Balthazar. I had a few hours to kill so I decided to visit a museum on the Upper West Side where an Al Hirschfeld exhibit was ongoing. I walked from our hotel, around Columbus Circle then up Central Park West. I took pictures of some of the more stately apartment building along the avenue. I’d walked by them a hundred times before but I hoped that because I was taking pictures of them now, I would remember the names and the details. Was the Dakota above or below the San Remo?

When I got to the museum, I found that they were closing in less than an hour and admission was almost $20, so I decided not to go in. I’ll never know how many Ninas I might have discovered inside the New York Historical Society. On 81st, I turned to walk west, inspired by the thought that it had been many years since my last visit to Riverside Park. On 81st and West End, I happened upon The Calhoun School, famous because the building itself looks like a giant television. I took a picture and sent it to friends via Facebook. On Sundays, when I lived in New York, I attended a church that had services there. I tagged Yvonne and Tania and Sarah in the picture I posted, I would have tagged Dana but she isn’t on Facebook.

From there I kept walking and as I crossed Riverside Drive, I remembered an episode of Naked City that was filmed there. How could the street look almost the same 50 years later? Has there ever been a city as unmoved yet everchanging as New York? I walked into the park. It’s no Central Park, I thought to myself. But I walked south until I discovered the Seventyninth Street Boat Basin. I considered stopping for a glass of wine. I remembered that I’d actually woke up a little hungover that morning. Too much bourbon at Bemelman’s and Robert and the Ritz-Carlton the night before. So I kept walking. I walked down the parkway along the Hudson River, marvelling at the stunning views of the water and the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey. I thought about how growing up (in Kansas) I always pictured New Jersey as an ugly, undesirable state and obviously, now I knew how wrong I was. I grew to love New Jersey decades ago.

I walked south to a new park with a fancy, sophisticated walkway and then I headed back to Columbus Circle. It was 5:30 and after my industrious walk, I was sweaty again. I decided to go back to the hotel to take another shower.

I was a little late to the Soho Grand, but Eric and our friend were enjoying cocktails and Sriracha-coated peas when I joined them. Believe it or not, I did not order a cocktail.

From there we had dinner at Balthazar, which was good. And then I can’t remember what else we did. Did we walk around Rockefeller Center and then up 5th Avenue? Did we go for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton again, then along Central Park South back to our hotel? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Years from now, I might remember it incorrectly, that we hopped into a cab and sang songs around the piano at Marie’s Crisis or that we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. And if that’s the way I remember it, that’s okay. No reason to getted bogged down by the facts.

Besided the hangover, the stomach ache, the pervasive heat, the not getting to see the Hirschfeld exhibit, I also had to contend with moments of melancholy and anxiety throughout this special day. Like a Cheever protagonist, melancholy and anxiety, and self-absorption for that matter, are part of who I am in my core. And yet, I will always remember this day fondly, importantly.

I walked 23.58 miles that day. I know that because I tweeted it that night when I got back to the hotel. I was proud of what I accomplished. I take my visits to New York very seriously, but you already know that.

Already, Eric and I are planning our next visit. I have to wrap this post up in a speedy manner or else I will be late to work. Forgive any mispelled words or dangling modifiers, maybe I’ll go back to fix my errors when I have time.

So off to work, I’ll go. Sometime during my day, I’ll check Kayak for flight and hotel deals. I’ll remember a museum that I wanted to make it to in August and I’ll go to their website and see what exhibits they’ll be showing at the end of January, beginning of February. Maybe I’ll finally make a reservation for us to eat lunch at The Four Seasons or Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court. Still planning a bright future.

We must do what we can to prove that our best days are before us.

Your Town Will Be Fine

  Several years ago, my Mom had a short stay at Mercy Hospital, the hospital in my hometown.  From half a continent away, I called her in her hospital room daily to check in. Obviously, I could picture her room because I spent many hours at Mercy Hospital growing up. If you grew up in Independence, you can’t think about Mercy Hospital without thinking of the milestones of your life, the happy and the sad, that are connected to her.

I dialed the hospital number and asked the operator to connect me to my Mom’s room. From the other end came a groggy, “Hello?!”

“Mom it’s me.”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine, how are you?”

“I’m okay, feeling a little out of it.”

I can’t remember what else we talked about but after a few more exchanges, I sensed something was awry.

“You don’t sound like yourself.”

“I don’t feel like myself.”

“Are you Theresa Barnhart?”

She replied that she wasn’t, the woman gave me her name, and I was relieved to  learn that the addled person I was talking to wasn’t my mother after all.  We said our goodbyes, polite Kansas folk that we were, and not long after, I was connected, by telephone, with my Mom.  

I guess the memory sticks in my memory because of the journey it took me on, worry to confusion, confusion to relief, and the relief with a hint of residual worry left behind.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mercy Hospital. You might know that it closed its doors this week, yesterday, I believe. Months ago, when I heard about the imminent demise, I could not wrap my brain around it. It seemed like an impossibility. 

What I have learned in the last few weeks, after reading article after article about Mercy Hospital’s last days is that small hospitals in small towns are closing all over the country.  The New York Times ran an article about Mercy Hospital this week. I read it with a mixture of sadness and pride, if that makes sense. On the one hand, I’m worried about what will happen to my little town and on the other hand, hey, we made The New York Times!

I won’t get into the politics of this. I’m no expert in government or healthcare in America. I just want to say that from 1500 miles away, I will miss Mercy Hospital. 

Like many others, I hope that something will happen that will turn the tide, that somehow, by some miracle, Mercy Hospital might reopen. The sooner the better. 

Someone, a friend of a friend, made a comment on my Facebook page, a reference to my last blog, where I ruminated on my fear that all of Independence hated me because of another blog I wrote. This woman told me not to worry about my town, that my town was fine. And I know she was talking about something else, but in the proximity of what was occurring in Independence this week, I couldn’t help but wonder, without a hospital, will my town be fine?

How do we progress into the 21st century while still valuing and retaining what has worked in the past? 

I worry about the high school friends I have who worked at Mercy Hospital, where will they go? I worry about the citizens of the town, what will happen when people fall at home or get into car accidents? 

I worry about all of it. But if you know me even a little, you know what I’m most worried about. 

My parents. 

And if you’re reading this and your parents still live in Independence or any of the other Independences out there, you understand my concern. I don’t have to tell you what you already know, that in an emergency, there can be a big difference between a 5 minute commute and 30 minute one.

If any good has come of this, I’ve been reminded how much I love Independence, how much I love this little hospital. Maybe someone else, someone with a lot more money than me, will be reminded of the same thing and find a way to save the day.

Also this week, also prompted by something I read on Facebook, I’ve pondered what it means to be Kansan. Is there a common thread that runs through all of us?

I think there is.  We Kansans, we persevere, we endure. I see all of us, living and the ones who came and lived before us, like characters in an episode of Little House of the Prairie. Corny, I know. But whatever it is that life throws into our path, be it droughts or floods, snow or ice, pestilence or Nellie Olesons, we persevere. We endure.

And so, in regards to the death of Mercy, and our little town’s future, I must offer the same stoic optimism. If you think you hear a catch in my voice, you would not be mistaken. But I do believe, I must believe, our town will be fine.

The Darkness of Our Souls


One of the mostly darkly comic moments of my high school career was the day of officer elections for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It was my junior year and I had been very involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) since my freshman year. I went to every meeting, every weekend retreat, every Tuesday night bible study. I wasn’t really an athlete, but I sure was a Christian and I had every Amy Grant cassette tape to prove it.

If you are a person that remembers high school, you might remember how some clubs were a little nerdier than others. FCA was not a nerd club. I’ll never forget my freshman year, going to meetings, spellbound by the devotions given by junior and senior club leaders, popular boys and girls, who talked about how their relationship with Jesus really helped them get through the day. And also, to win games.

By my junior year, FCA was the one club I was most involved in. Many of the people I considered my best friends were also in that club.

When officer elections came up that year, I knew that I really wanted to hold some kind of office during my senior year. I aspired to be that upperclassman giving devotions, inspiring freshman about how Jesus really makes your day better. So I signed up to run for every office: president, vice president, secretary, treasurer. I think there was even something called stu-co rep that I threw my name into the hat for. I was sure that with all that putting myself out there, something would pay off. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

The day of elections, my first clue of the tragicomedy to come was that every FCA member in the school showed up to vote. While FCA boasted a large membership, meeting attendance was never mandatory and often not heavily attended. That day was the exception, every lumbering football player, towering basketball player and Aqua-Netted varsity cheerleader showed up to vote for officers that day.

The first office that we voted for was president. I don’t remember how many candidates there were, I don’t remember who won. I just remember it wasn’t me.

I won’t drag this out for you the way that afternoon dragged on for me, but each election bore the same result. Each time my fellow FCA members had an opportunity to vote, they voted for the other candidate. By the time we got down to stu-co rep, there were snickers that travelled through the auditorium when my name was announced as one of the candidates. Like Carrie at the prom, in the moments after that pigs’ blood fell on her head, I realized that whatever it was that I wanted from these people, boys and girls I considered my peers, I was not going to get it. By a show of hands, the vote took place. Someone other than me won.

That afternoon, after the calamitous election, I went home and took to my waterbed. I don’t remember crying specifically, but I probably did. What I most remember is laying there, heartbroken and embarrassed. In all my years of living in Independence, I don’t think I ever felt so alone.

My only consolation was that someday I would leave Independence and leave Kansas and show them all. I would have a wildly successful adult life and when I came back to Independence to visit, everyone would clamor around me, wanting to get close enough that my stardust might rub off on them.

And while I have left Independence and left Kansas, my life is just kind of a life. Not too glamorous, barely any stardust at all.

Did I have any idea, on that lonely spring afternoon, as I pouted in my bedroom, how many times I would think of that day in the 30 years to come? I don’t think I did.

On that afternoon, I decided I was not going to be a member of FCA my senior year. I would not be sharing my athleticism or my Christianity with people who did not appreciate it. And I held to that resolution. Instead, my senior year was filled with rehearsals and performances for four different plays.

It’s no wonder I loved being on stage, acting in these plays. The thought of becoming someone else is what I’d spent 17 years dreaming about.

One of the plays I did in that busy senior year was written by William Inge.  The play, A Loss of Roses, was Inge’s first big Broadway failure, the first of more than a few.

Inge wrote quite a bit about his hometown, my hometown. In his adulthood, he did not spend a lot of time in Independence. From what I’ve read, I don’t think he liked visiting. An overly sensitive man, a success who never stopped feeling like a failure, I think his visits home dredged up too much pain.

It’s always a little embarrassing to write about one’s pains, one’s sensitivities. Inge did it beautifully, but now, now that we know how much sadness he bore his entire life, it’s heartbreaking. Lola, always ready to play the victim, but stronger than she realizes. Rosemary, on her knees begging a man she may not even love to marry her because the loneliness is killing her. Millie, overshadowed by her beautiful sister, defiant that one day she would leave Independence and live a successful, decorated life.

Sometimes I worry that I am in a downward spiral, that the trip to the Menninger Clinic that William Inge and Deanie Loomis took might be in my future too. There are days that I am overwhelmed by my sensitivities. There are moments when I wonder, am I the only person bothered that no one stops at stop signs in Los Angeles?

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. this morning with the fear that everyone in my entire home town hates me now. Over something I wrote about in a blog yesterday. And then I fretted over that fear because who really thinks that way except for the delirious and the paranoid?  And then to try to make sense of it, I sat on my couch and typed all this out into my little phone. And then, later, I’ll go back to reread what I’ve written and judge it and decide whether I’m willing to share it, the ramblings of my overtired, oversensitive, quite possibly delusional brain.

Of course, you know I published it. You know I took that risk. It’s what we writers do, we risk revealing the darkness of our souls. Even us failures, especially us failures.  And vultures that we are, we all take solace in being reminded of others’ failures, because they are not our own.

A Sad Confession


It was me.  Let the chips fall where they may.

I know I don’t think of myself as a trouble maker and yet the fact that trouble always has a way of finding me indicates that perhaps I seek trouble more than I am willing to admit.  It all started a few days ago.  On Facebook, naturally.

Someone I grew up with, I’ll call her Melissa, posted a picture on Facebook that I found disturbing.  She posted a picture of a bloody dead deer.  She included with the picture a witticism about the deer being Bambi’s mom.  Now, I am from the midwest, so I have seen quite a few pictures of dead deer on social media over the last few years.  To me, it’s jarring to scroll down your news feed and come upon a picture of a bloody animal.  And let me state for the record, there is a possibility that I am the only person who feels that way.

This person who posted the picture is not someone I would classify as a close friend.  I have not seen her once in the last 20 years.  I decided in that moment to unfollow Melissa.  It’s not like we really even have much Facebook contact, we don’t send messages, she doesn’t really click like on pictures I post.

I can’t remember how it all played out, but I think when I told FB I wanted to unfollow Melissa it asked me if I wanted to report that picture.  So I said yes.  In retrospect, I have to wonder why I felt the need to report the picture.  It was and is my understanding that if one person reports a picture, nothing happens.  If several people report a picture, FB may delete it or ask you to delete it.  If anyone has more expertise on FB’s reporting policies, please feel free to weigh in.

Facebook asked me why I wanted to report the picture and after a series of multiple choices, I chose that the picture was gory.  Obviously, gore is somewhat objective, I realize not everyone in the world looks at a picture of a dead deer, bleeding out from its wound, and sees that as unsightly.

I posted a tweet/status update about hoping there might be less dead deer photos in my news feed this fall and winter.  I wondered what might be the kindest, smartest, most empathetic way to ask people to post less of these type pictures.  I don’t think what I came up with achieved those missions. I wrote, “Racking my brain, trying to figure out the least passive aggressive way to ask people not to post pictures of dead deer this deer season.”  A few people clicked like, a few agreed with me.

Later, I went back to Melissa’s FB page and I saw that she left a comment under her picture that anyone who was offended by her picture should just delete her, so I did.  She said that she was from Kansas and people from Kansas hunt.  (I’m paraphrasing.)

I will say that I am not a vegetarian, nor am I against hunting.  That Melissa and her family will consume this animal does not disturb me.  I just did not think it was the kind of thing I wanted to see on social media.

This morning, a friend of mine who saw my tweet/status update from Monday asked if I was the person who reported Melissa’s picture.  I admitted to my friend that it was me.  This friend shared with me the status update and thread where she said someone had reported her picture and she wanted to know who it was so she could delete them.  There were many comments of support, people who felt there was nothing disturbing at all about her dead deer picture.

And that’s when I felt bad.  I asked myself again, seriously, why did I feel the need to report the picture? Why did I get so fired up? It’s just a picture.  Couldn’t I have just unfollowed and not look back?  I thought about sending Melissa a message, apologizing for reporting the picture, offering best wishes, trying to explain myself.  I realized, though, that there was nothing I could say that would make her see it my way.  We both may be from Kansas, we both might have even moved far away from Kansas, but we see life differently.

If I could undo reporting the picture, I would.  If I could undo unfriending Melissa, I would do that too.

What’s done is done after all.  And this is a sad confession, but it was only after reading her latest status update this morning that I really tried to look at the whole thing from her perspective.  It’s my understanding that the deer was shot by her husband, and people commented that it was a good shot, a clean kill.  She was proud of her man and she wanted to share it.  And then I come along…

I don’t know if the picture is still up, I do know that she knows it was me.  She commented in another thread that she thought I was the kind of person who would have told her without reporting it.  And I would say she makes a good point.

So, I guess that’s it.  Everybody knows.  I know there are much bigger problems in the world than this, but I am not proud of my actions.

Melissa, if you ever happen to see this, know that I am truly sorry.  I do wish you the very best.

A Big Announcement


Well, I have big news.  We are moving to New York.  Rhinebeck, New York.  I hope I can spit out all the details before those 1.5 Xanaxes I just took render me unable to type sentences. Enjoy these typo-free first paragraphs now because it’s liable to get a bit sloppy.

Yes, Eric and I are moving to Rhinebeck. Nevermind that we don’t have jobs there, nevermind that we don’t have a place to live. Also, nevermind, for the moment, that I haven’t yet told Eric about my plans for our little family.  Actually, he sort of knows, we talked about it briefly over dinner at the Cheesecake Factory at the Grove last night.  We sat on the balcony, overlooking the trolley route.  It’s views like that that we’re really going to miss when we are living a simple, but fulfilling life just miles from the Hudson River.

It might sound like a pipe dream to you all, but I want you to know that I spent over an hour looking for jobs and apartments and even houses on today.  I found a 1 bedroom for $750.  I wish I could say that it was some “Washington slept here” old Colonial, but I have to admit, the 1980s was totally a good decade to build apartment buildings, too. Also, a Friendly’s and two “family restaurants” are hiring servers right now.

Nevermind that I’ve only been to Rhinebeck once, for the wedding of my friends Michele and Stan. And nevermind that I was drunk 40% of the time I was there and really insanely, open bar at a wedding drunk for the other 60%. Alcohol brings out our true selves and my true self loved all those little towns like Rhinebeck and Staatsburg and Hyde Park and Peekskill. Also, just the idea of living that close to where Blair and Jo and Natalie and Tootie lived really appeals to me. Does that sounds like a creepy thing for a 47 year old man to say about a group of 15 and 16 year old boarding school girls? (Don’t answer that.)

Nevermind that the first thing out of Eric’s mouth when I suggested our move was, “Millie would hate the cold.”  He’s probably right.  The one time I took her to my parents in winter, while there was snow on the ground, she did not pee or poop for four days.  Not outside, anyway.  I figure if we load and leave by this weekend, we’ll get to our new home in upstate New York early enough to give her time to adjust to the new environment before the first snowfall.

I have to be honest, Millie is part of the reason we are moving.  About three weeks ago, we came home from Marie Callender’s to find Millie’s little butt bleeding.  It was a scary, uncertain thing to witness so we bundled her up and took her to the 24 hour vet clinic.  They informed us almost immediately that she had an abscessed anal gland.  I won’t go into all of the details of the last three weeks, but it’s taken a bit longer to heal than we expected.  And now, we are at a point, that even though she seems on the mend, I can’t stop worrying about her.  I look at her butt about 40 times a day, checking to see her progress.  When I am at work, she is all I think about.  When I am home, I am never at ease.  Even now that her energy level is pretty much back to normal, I can’t turn the worry off.  That’s where those Xanax come in.

It might seem whimsical, even impractical, to decide so capriciously that we are moving to Rhinebeck, but I made a big decision like that once before.  For years, while I lived in New York, I toyed with the idea of moving to Los Angeles, but the moment I decided was sudden and irreversible.  I was standing in front of a mirror with a breathtakingly handsome guy I was dating, our arms snaked around each other. Though we stared at each other through our reflections, I knew in that moment, that he really didn’t like me as much as I liked him.  I doubt that I will ever recall what we even talked about but I’ll always remember that epiphany. I thought to myself, I am moving to Los Angeles. 45 days later, I did.  I packed everything I owned into 5 boxes and two suitcases and I moved west.  I did not and do not regret it.  I might always be wistful about Manhattan, but I made the right choice.  I love Los Angeles and every blessing she has brought me.

Of course, as you might suspect, 45 days from now, you probably won’t find Eric and me, walking Ricky and MIllie down main street Rhinebeck, looking like a gay L..L. Bean print ad.  We’ll still be here in LA, same apartment, same jobs, same friends, same lives.  To be honest, most nights when I dream the occasional dream that I am moving to another city, my first thought when I wake is, I’m so glad I don’t have to do all the unloading and packing and yard saling and giving away of the stuff I’ve accumulated in the 21 years since I moved here.  Long past are the days that all my cherishable possessions could fit into 5 boxes and two suitcases.

That’s not to say that we will never move. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t move.

But I think it’s really okay, comforting even, to spend an hour or two thinking about what life would be like somewhere else.  Because as long as it’s a fantasy, the new chapter will only bring a great job, a beautiful home, neverending pet health, boundless creativity, a consistent exercise regimen, the ability to be filled up with just one slice of pizza or just a bite of chocolate cake.  I am 98% sure that in Rhinebeck my favorite meal will be salad without dressing, merely tossed with a squirt or two of fresh lemon.

Maybe in Rhinebeck, I will be so overwhelmingly happy, I won’t have need or desire to close my eyes and let my imagination run wild.  But for now, I am here, not completely miserable about being here, but still, wondering. Drowsy from the Xanax and tired from so many days of worry, soon, I will stumble into bed and drift to sleep.  I wonder what dreams await me.

That’s What We Do


September 11, 2015, is a day I do not think I will soon forget. Obviously, every year, on that day, I am reflective about the world we live in and the heartaches that occur and the way we, all of us members of the human race, are there or not there for each other.

On Friday, we here in Los Angeles were in the middle of a heat wave. In my job, one of my daily assignments, in fact my biggest daily assignment, is to find tables for guests that make said guests happy. My restaurant is mostly outdoor space and on most days, most guests want to sit outside. But on heat wave days, most people want to sit inside.

Wednesday and Thursday had been taxing and we all knew Friday would be tricky as well. All inside tables had been allocated by 11:00 a.m. which meant that if a guest had requested outside when they made the reservation, it was going to be next to impossible to find them a table inside.

There was a woman who was the first in a reservation for four to arrive. The person who had made the reservation had requested an outside table. She said they wanted to sit inside now and we told her that we would try our best. I told her that I had one high top table that we’d brought in from outside because of the dire heat and that we would be happy to let them sit there. She declined, but after a few minutes, she came to me and said she would take the table. So we sat her there. Forgive the cliché, but sometimes you are just dancing as fast as you can and this was one of those days. I sensed that she understood I was trying to help. Her party came a few minutes later and the rest of the party did not like the table. Two of my co-workers and I tried to explain the scenario as patiently as possible. In the middle of our conversation, a woman at a table inside found out that her guest had cancelled and with that news, she vacated her table. We told the ladies that we could move them to that table and all seemed pleased. They thanked me. I said, and I truly meant it, that I wished I could just magically make it be 74 degrees every day and everyone would be happy. They laughed.

A few minutes later, another party came in and though we had allocated a table inside for them, we offered them the option of an outside table.  Some people were sitting outside and we hoped that them going outside would open up a table inside for someone else. They opted to sit inside.

And as my co-worker went to seat this party, the woman who had made the reservation came to me and abruptly asked, “WHY DO YOU HATE ME?” She told me that she and her friends had overheard our conversation, that this was a special occasion and they wanted to know why I had given them such a bad table. I apologized immediately and told her I would speak to the manager. She told me that I had embarrassed her in front of her friends. I found the manager, she intervened, they moved the party to a more agreeable table and that was that.

I had not been the only person at the host stand, but I was the one this woman zeroed in on. I wondered why it had been me that she blamed for all of this. Perhaps, she focused on me because she sensed that I was the one who had been trying the most to help the table, as strange as that might sound.

They went about their meal, I continued to work, seating people. But in that instant, the energy of the day shifted for me.  Before it had been a little fun trying to make the pieces fit, like a jigsaw puzzle.  Now, I had been called out, shamed even.  And not to be too theatrical, but the whole time, to any co-worker who would listen, I only said things like, “I am truly broken. I will never get over this.”  Dramatic.  I know.

I considered saying something to the ladies as they left, but I wondered exactly what it was that I wanted to say. I work in a very corporate environment, that’s been established, and really, I’ve seen the most innocuous conversations between guest and employee escalate into alarming consequences. After they finished, as they walked to the elevator, I walked over to them. Before I could say a word, they thanked me for moving them.

I said to them, emotion already rising in my voice, “I want to apologize.”

“You don’t need to apologize,” the woman offered.

“No, I do. I am glad that (my manager) was able to get you a better table. The bad thing about me is that I really do try to do my job well and this time I failed.  I won’t forget this day, I won’t forget this moment and, AGAIN, I truly apologize for everything.”

They did not see me cry, but they could see that the tears were close. They reached out to console me, but I knew that I needed to step away from the floor. I turned to my co-worker and told her I was going to take a break.

I found a stairwell in the bowels of the store and sat down and burst into tears. You see, the thing that had stung the most was that I had been trying very hard to accommodate these ladies. I understood their desire for a better dining experience, but I was doing my best. And, at that moment anyway, I felt that I had been attacked because I cared.

A friend and co-worker found me in the stairwell. “Nobody cares!” I bellowed. “You bend over backwards to help people and then they all s#$% on you.” And this person that I was talking to, I know how much they care about me. I continued, “I mean, I know you care. But in the end, nobody cares. Maybe in the end, only three people really truly care about you and that’s it.”

And instead of placating me with a positive platitude, my friend merely offered, sadly, “You know I think the older you get, the more you realize, that’s the truth. You’re right.”

I shed a few more tears and then I wiped them on my sleeve and then I went back to work. Another co-worker who had witnessed my apology said that after I left, the ladies lingered and she sensed that the woman felt bad about what had happened. Either way, I survived the day, damaged, but mostly intact.

That night Eric and I went to dinner with friends. We talked about the day’s events and they all commiserated with me. Everyone at the table knows that I am too sensitive for my own good. On the good days, I think it’s my sensitivity that makes me special. On the bad days, I just see it as a victimizing burden.

But the good news is we had a dynamite meal. We were at an old school French restaurant that our friends have gone to for years. We all had roast chicken and pomme frites.  At one point, I raised my glass of Maker’s Mark and drunkenly toasted, “This is just what the doctor ordered.”

Our server was something special too: professional, efficient, knowledgeable, amiable. One of us ordered a shrimp dish that came with a delicious, impossible to dissect sauce. Amongst ourselves, we tried to figure out what it was in it. Oregano? Thyme? Peppercorns? When our server came to the table we asked for clues to the sauce’s secret ingredients.

Did I mention I had a little bourbon in me? Of the four of us, I was, by far, the most strident. “Please tell us a few more ingredients,” I pleaded each time she visited us. And I thought it was all good-natured, I thought she was having fun with our (MY) enthusiastic questions. And maybe she did enjoy our exchange.

Anyway, after dinner, as we were leaving, as the busboy and a nearby hostess thanked us for coming in, I looked for our wonderful server, to thank her. She was at the bar, talking to the bartender. I stood there a few moments, hoping she would look over at us, so I could wave a final thank you, but she did not. Maybe she saw me, maybe she didn’t.  I’ll never know.

This morning, during my morning swim, I thought about the events of that Friday. What had been done to me and also, the possibility that I had been obnoxious to our server. I could not blame her for not turning to thank us as we left because, sometimes when you have an unpleasant customer, your only recompense is to act like you don’t see them as they walk out the door.  Speaking from experience.

Also this morning, I had the idea that I would write about these events. Does the weight of accumulated cruelties harden us as we get older?  Do I care less about people than I did 10 or 20 or 30 years ago?  I wonder.

I was paying for gas at the AM/PM this morning when a frail, elderly African-American woman walked into the store and asked the attendant a question. I wasn’t paying attention. I was busy writing THIS masterpiece in my head. As she left, the attendant shook his head and gave me a “can you believe she asked that?” look. I think my response was a non-committal blink.

As I drove away, I saw the woman walking slowly along Olympic. I wondered if perhaps she had Alzheimer’s or dementia. I’ve been watching a lot of Friday Night Lights lately, and I was thinking about Matt Saracen’s poor grandma, Lorraine. I considered stopping, but I drove on. She’s someone else problem, I thought.  Also, maybe she’s fine and knows exactly what she’s doing.

But a block after driving by, I turned the corner, trying to find this woman, to make sure she was okay.

I found her and rolled my window down. “Are you lost, ma’am?”

“No, but which way is Wilshire?” She pointed toward Wilshire a few blocks north and asked if Wilshire was that direction.

“Yes, it’s that way. Do you need a ride home?”

“No, I’m just trying to find a Sunday paper. He said they don’t sell them at the gas station anymore. He said maybe 7/11 but I don’t know where 7/11 is so I’m walking to Ralph’s.”

“Do you want me to drive you to Ralph’s? I’d be happy to.”

She hesitated, but said, “No, thank you though. I’ll walk, but that’s very sweet of you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, thank you, have a nice Sunday.”

The second I drove off, I decided I was going to find her a Sunday paper. Driving down La Brea, I saw a Starbucks and pulled in and bought it for her. I raced back to the street she’d been on, wondering if I would even find her.

I did find her, a couple blocks closer to Ralph’s than where I’d left her. I put my car in park and rolled down my window and showed her the paper. It took a moment before she remembered me but then she broke into a grin.

“That is so sweet of you.”

“Well, I got to thinking that if my Mama was looking for a Sunday paper, I’d be grateful to the stranger who found one for her.”

“Can I give you a hug?”

And then we hugged, right there on the corner of Detroit and 8th.

“Are you sure I can’t give you a ride home?”

“Well, it IS pretty hot.” And then we both laughed a little.

I got her situated in the front seat, I turned up my A/C and she told me where she lived, not far away.

On the ride there, I asked how long she’d lived in Los Angeles and she said she grew up here. She told me her name, Anna. She had lived many places, including Japan, because her ex-husband had been in the military. She now lived with her youngest son, her oldest son died 7 years ago.

“What year were your sons born?” I asked. She told me that her oldest had been born in 1968 and her youngest, in 1978. I told her that I was born in 1968, too. That seemed to please her.

Not much later, we arrived at her home. “This is where I live.”  I helped her out and she thanked me again.

“That’s what we do,” I told her. “We help each other out.” We hugged again and both of us, as if we had known each other a lifetime, said to the other, “You made my day.” And then she added, with a giggle, “We said it at the same time.”

“It’s true,” I said, holding back tears, not for the first time in the last 72 hours.

“Well, you made my week,” she countered and sauntered away. I watched her walk up her step, hoping she was okay, trusting that she was.

I might have helped her find her way home, but the same could be said for what she did for me.

That’s what we do.


LONESTAR: Set against the sprawling backdrop of big Texas oil, Robert/Bob Allen (newcomer James Wolk) is a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has entangled himself in a deep, complex web from which he can’t break free in LONESTAR premiering this fall on FOX. ©2010 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Bill Matlock/FOX

I’ve stumbled into a conundrum at work and I don’t know the best way to get out of it.  Or even if I need to get out of it.  Or even if I want to get out of it.

As you might know, I am back at Barneys.  There is a new parking system, one that was developed in the year that I was elsewhere.  We now park our cars tandem style with an attendant who directs us.  It’s a pretty thankless job because no one really wants to park in front of or behind another person.  The parking attendants are all saints, every one of them.

On one of my first days back, one of the attendants, asked me my name and I told it to him.  He wrote my name and where in the store that I worked and placed it on my windshield in case he or another attendant needed to locate me to move the car for the person in front of me.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a revelation from my friend.  I don’t know his name and obviously, I should know his name.  He is my co-worker and not just any co-worker, one who always greets my kindly even though his job is, like I said, completely thankless.  Actually, it’s worse than thankless because most of us grumble that we don’t want to park tandem style to him as if all of these parking arrangements had been his idea in the first place.  That being said, it feels too far along in our working relationship for me to, out of the blue, ask him his name.

Anyway, here is the conundrum: he thinks my name is Jeff.  On the slip he puts on my windshield, he now writes Jeff and that I work in the restaurant.  As I park in the morning and say hello on my way to the elevator, he says, “Thanks, Jeff, have a great day!”

And I’m really torn.  On one hand, he should probably know my name.  If they need me to move my car and he calls the restaurant looking for Jeff, it might be a while before the deductions are made that I am indeed Jeff.

And I don’t want to say, “Hey, I’m actually not Jeff, I’m Ray.”  I’ve never been good at delivering those messages without sounding like at the bare minimum, passive aggressive, and at worst, well, let’s just say “jerk”.  Did I mention he’s probably the nicest guy who works in the whole store?

Every day, when he says, “Have a great day, Jeff,” I wonder when and if I’m going to break the news to him.

But I don’t think it will be any time soon, because, between you and me, I get a certain thrill when he calls me Jeff.  When he calls me Jeff, I am not Ray. Ray is fine, not horrible, but Jeff seems so rife with possibility.

I really want to be Jeff.  Even though, obviously, others think Jeff looks like me, I see Jeff SIMILAR to me, but better.  Brown eyes, brown hair, yes.  But Jeff weighs 15 pounds less than Ray, he’s also an inch taller.  Also, he’s 36.  He looks like James Wolk from Mad Men and he has a killer smile and when Jeff walks by (or just parks his car) people always comment to themselves, “Man, I love that Jeff.”

Like Ray, Jeff is gay, has a significant other and dogs at home, but Jeff played high school football.  (He wasn’t so great, but everyone loved him.) Ray and Jeff both drive the same car, obviously, but Jeff keeps his Jetta a little neater than Ray.  There aren’t about 25 parking passes from the pool at Park La Brea strewn about Jeff’s Jetta.  Also, Jeff washes his car every other Sunday morning, whether it’s his day off or not.

Jeff is midwestern like Ray.  He’s super excited because his memoir about growing up in the midwest is getting ready to come out soon.  (Simon and Schuster, if you can believe it.) He wonders if, when the book comes out, he’ll be able to stop working a day job.  Either way, it’s all good.  Everything always works out for Jeff.  He’s super grateful to have corporate health insurance again.

Jeff is mostly perfect.  His one flaw, if you can even call it that, is that he’s always posting motivational sayings on his Instagram.  “We get it, you’re totally glass half full, Jeff,” his friends say, kidding, but they still adore him.  Can’t stay mad at Jeff!

I could go on, but you get the point.

You see, it’s been kind of a big summer for Ray.  There were some sad things that happened, some great things too.  I took a risk leaving a job that I hated to go back to Barneys and, while no job is perfect, I am truly glad to be back and to have corporate insurance again.  I didn’t blog as much as I hoped to and now I’m kicking myself a little because I’m feeling a little rusty now.  I went to New York in August and ached before I went and ached after.  Will I ever love a city more than I love New York?

And you know, here I am, trying to wrap up a simple blog about social etiquette that has morphed into a confession of being at a point where I’d just like to have a little bit more.  Be a little bit more.  Perhaps you can relate.

Don’t we all just want our life to be a little more awesome?

Unless you’re Jeff.

Well, maybe even if you’re Jeff.